Labour councillors in South Gloucestershire are describing the Conservative Council’s decision to abolish its policy-making committee system as ‘a backwards step for democracy and transparency’.
Five years ago South Gloucestershire became one of the first councils in the country to take advantage of a change in the law which allowed the creation of committees to make policy decisions instead of the highly centralised ‘Cabinet’ system where many decisions are delegated to individual councillors.
Now the Conservatives have used their majority on the Council to force through a change back to the old system, creating a Cabinet of 8 members which will determine the vast majority of policies.
Commenting on the move, Councillor Pat Rooney, the Leader of Labour’s councillors on the authority, says:
“All elected councillors should have a voice, an influence and a vote on policy decisions, and these should be made in public. This Cabinet system will concentrate power in the hands of just 8 of our 70 councillors. Some decisions will be delegated to individual councillors for approval, leading to policy being made by the stroke of a pen behind closed doors.
Our past experience with this system is that most councillors get sidelined and their valid challenges get treated with contempt.
This change is unnecessary because the committee system does not prevent the Tories from running the council as they have a majority on each committee. The big difference is that committees operate in public so all decisions are made in public. Abolishing our committee structure is a backwards step for democracy and transparency.
South Gloucestershire used to enjoy an enviable reputation for openness, so this is sad day for South Gloucestershire.”